VANCOUVER - The union representing B.C. government workers has issued 72-hour strike notice and its first target will be provincial liquor centres in Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops.
The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union workers are set to walk off the job at the Vancouver main distribution warehouse for 24 hours beginning 11:30 on Monday night.
The Victoria wholesale customer centre and the Kamloops distribution warehouse will be picketed for shorter periods.
But Finance Minister Kevin Falcon warned Friday that if workers take strike action, the government's "generous" offer is off the table and subsequent offers likely won't be as lucrative for the union representing 27,000 people.
"What is really disappointing to me is that at a time when the world economy is worsening, they are asking taxpayers to provide wage increases that are simply not affordable," Falcon said Friday in an interview.
The union is asking for a 3.5 per cent wage hike in the first year and a cost of living increase in the second, while the government has offered a contract with a two per cent increase in the first and 1.5 per cent in the second year.
Union chief negotiator David Vipond said employees have taken two years of zero wage increases.
"We don't want to lose any more income to inflation," he said. "We've been there, done that, we've got the T-shirt. We've lost over five (per cent), we've done our bit. We want a fair and reasonable settlement."
Negotiations began in January and the contract expired at the end of March.
The union asked the mediator to book out of talks June 22, after it said mediation failed to produce meaningful progress with the provincial government.
The only retail liquor store affected by the strike action Tuesday is the one at the main distribution branch in Vancouver, and the union said all other government liquor stores will remain open.
BCGEU president Darryl Walker said the union started with the liquor sites because the government announced plans earlier this year to privatize the Liquor Distribution Branch warehouse and distribution service.
"One of the reasons we've chosen the warehouses themselves is to really expose what is happening here," Walker said. "Number 1, we've yet to see a business plan from the government as to why they're selling the three warehouses, the three distribution centres and what it's going to gain the people of British Columbia."
Falcon said the business case couldn't be simpler: If a private firm can do the job at less cost than the government and provide better service outcomes, then it won't sell off the warehouses.
"If the marketplace comes back and it's going to cost government more, obviously we don't do the deal. The deal has to make sense for government and taxpayers. Otherwise we don't do it."
Vipond said the government insists it doesn't have the money for higher wages so the union has offered a $300-million solution to boost revenues by opening 175 government-run liquor stores every Sunday.
"They simply declined. They don't want the money. The government actually told us there's no business case but for the 600 private stores, they understand the business case."
Falcon said the idea was no multimillion-dollar solution.
He said the analysis showed that once the government paid unionized workers overtime as required for a Sunday and tax revenues were "cannibalized" from the private liquor stores, the revenue totals would come to about $11 million.
The union hasn't been on strike since 1988, and Vipond said he would still like to divert such action.
"We're happy to meet with them again," he said. "There's no pride in all of this. We're simply trying to get a deal." (The Canadian Press, CFJC)